Thomas Hobbes

Essay by shinhoo78University, Master'sA-, November 2002

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EARLY LIFE. Thomas Hobbes was born at Westport, adjoining Malmesbury in Wiltshire, on April 5, 1588. His father, the vicar of the parish (so John Aubery tells us), "was one of the ignorant Sir Johns of Queen Elizabeth's time, could only read the prayers of the church and the homilies, and valued not learning, as not knowing the sweetness of it" (Letters written by eminent persons. . .and Lives of eminent men, 1813). Hobbes led a sheltered and leisured life. His education was provided for by an uncle, a solid tradesman and alderman of Malmesbury. He was already a good Latin and Greek scholar when, not yet fifteen, he was sent to Magdalen Hall, Oxford. On leaving Oxford, in 1608, he became companion to the eldest son of Lord Cavendish of Hardwicke (afterwards created Earl of Devonshire), and his connection with the Cavendish family lasted (although not without interruptions) till his death.

Three times in his life, Hobbes traveled on the continent with a pupil. His first journey was begun in 1610, and in it he visited France, Germany, and Italy, learning the French and Italian languages, and gaining experience, but not yet conscious of his life's work. On his return (the date is uncertain), he settled down with his young lord at Hardwick an din London. His secretarial duties were light, and he set himself to become a scholar. To this period, belongs his acquaintance with Bacon, Herbert of Cherbury, Ben Johnson, and other leading men of the time.

Hobbes's pupil and friend died in 1628, two years after the death of the first earl; his son and successor was a boy of eleven; his widow did not need the services of a secretary; and, for a time, there was no place in the household for Hobbes. In...